I hate to see anyone pour gas on a fire.
When that "anyone" happens to be a fellow Chicago Now blogger and a self-proclaimed urban cycling expert, well, that really burns me up!
When I read the headline "A Critical Mass... uh, mess" on the front page of the Chicago Tribune's Perspective section today (Sunday, October 2, 2011), I was expecting yet another anti-bike rant from yet another "get off my road" motorist. After reading through several paragraphs of the author whining about motorists being inconvenienced and cyclists flouting the law, I was stunned to discover that the author was a cycling advocate.
At that moment, I decided that I owed him the opportunity to at least explain his viewpoint. I wasn't expecting to be convinced, but I am open-minded and willing to acknowledge valid arguments in opposition of my own.
Scott Rowan didn't convince me of anything.
His fear that the Critical Mass cyclists are "accomplishing anything other than driving a huge wedge between motorists and cyclists" was simply not supported by his arguments. He didn't use a single example from his extensive year-long research into the topic. It seems he referenced that information merely to establish his own credibility with the reader.
Impatient, inconsiderate, selfish, and dangerous motorists aren't created while being inconvenienced by a rolling bicycle demonstration, a gay pride parade, a Toys For Tots Harley drive, or a funeral procession for that matter. These motorists - who are most lethal to pedestrians and cyclists - wreak just as much havoc with every other road user because of their personal attitudes and emboldened indestructibility behind the wheel of their two-ton assault vehicles. Don't blame bad cyclists for creating bad motorists - bad motorists created themselves.
Ironically, espousing this opinion on an editorial page in a major newspaper will do more to harden the opinions of anti-bicycling motorists than educate them on our right to share the road. Hardly a wise or responsible tactic for a cycling advocate to take...
I really don't want to comment on Scott's interpretation of the First Amendment and the cost to the City to protect this right for the Critical Mass cyclists. "Sure, Critical Mass has the right to assemble - but where does it say that they are allowed to make that assembly mobile?" He goes on to qualify it as a parade (which is a mobile assembly by definition), then denigrates the participants and spectators. Nothing like pandering to those with intolerant viewpoints...
Reading this editorial, I can't help but get the feeling that "The Urban Cyclist" pretty much detests other urban cyclists. Referring to the monthly Critical Mass ride as "state sponsored terrorism" and "predetermined, rolling riots" shows his lack of acceptance for an entire group of fellow urban riders. Ironically, many participating in the ride may actually like some of Scott's ideas. He's certainly not going to win any new fans after lumping all those that don't act exactly as he does into the category of terrorist, rioter, lawbreaker, anarchist, and selfish hipster.
Scott Rowan's editorial does absolutely nothing to advocate for the rights of cyclists. It does nothing but perpetuate bad stereotypes and widen the divide between cyclists and motorists. It even appeals to the prejudices of the intolerant among us who refuse to respect the rights of those they disagree with. And he calls himself a cycling advocate?
The writer in me was patiently waiting for Scott to take his ginned up rage and turn it around on the reader. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for him to say "I have a solution that will benefit both the inconvenienced motorist and the urban cyclist who wants safer streets." When that moment finally came, I was stunned by his suggestion.
The Urban Cyclist wants corporations to sponsor bicycle only streets.
A separate but equal policy that Corporate America can endorse. Civil unions for cyclists, marriage for motorists. You are free to bike, but only on those roads that the free market wants you to. You are no longer entitled to ride the streets your tax dollars pay for. You are a nuisance to the fossil-fuel economy - stay out of its way.
I don't even know where to start with my criticism of this proposal.
For starters, is he actually expecting corporations to willingly contribute money to municipalities to fund separate infrastructure for bicycles? He has this relationship ass-backward. Corporations want to be paid by government to build infrastructure. Corporations fight paying taxes to support the infrastructure they already rely on to conduct business in America. Corporations won't even part with cash on hand to hire American workers. Why would a corporation want to sponsor a ribbon of road that brings them no direct benefit?
Cyclists - apparently himself excluded - are an independent lot that skews more anti-corporation than the average taxpayer. It takes an individual to decide that he or she doesn't buy into the car-centric, materialistic culture espoused by corporate advertising. Why would that attitude suddenly change in favor of a sponsor? I would think cyclists would be even more skeptical of the motives of any company seeking to sponsor a bike lane.
Then there's the idea of a separate infrastructure for cyclists.
The core of cycling advocacy is safe routes for cyclists. Shared lanes. Dedicated lanes. Protected lanes. Bike paths. Complete streets that are safe for motorists, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. Access to all areas by all forms of transportation. Education of motorists on their responsibility to respect the rights of all other users.
If our democracy has taught us anything, it's that there is no equality through separation. It always creates separate classes and harbors prejudices and enables discrimination. It didn't work for freed slaves. It's not working for gay couples. It won't work for cyclists. We're all equal. We deserve to be treated equally.
Infrastructure and services for the public good should not be tainted by corporate interests. Let corporations put ads on buses and their names on stadiums to subsidize user costs, but don't rely on them to build the infrastructure our changing needs demand. Students of history need only look to Los Angeles for an example of corporations building the transportation network to see how well that worked.
This suburban cyclist stands with all the Critical Mass riders and the rights they uphold for all cyclists.
Keep on riding and be safe!